Wylder's Hand

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter LXXI


Jim Dutton had not turned up since, and his letter was one of those mares' nests of which gentlemen in Mr. Larkin's line of business have so large an experience. Of Mark Wylder not a trace was discoverable. His enquiries on this point were, of course, conducted with caution and remoteness. Gylingden, however, was one of those places which, if it knows anything, is sure to find a way of telling it, and the attorney was soon satisfied that Mark's secret visit had been conducted with sufficient caution to baffle the eyes and ears of the good folk of the town.

Well, one thing was plain. The purchase of the reversion was to wait, and fraudulent as was the price at which he had proposed to buy it, he was now resolved to get it for less than half that sum, and he wrote a short note to the vicar, which he forthwith despatched.

In the meantime there was not a moment to be lost in clenching the purchase of Five Oaks. And Mr. Jos. Larkin, with one of his 'young men' with him in the tax-cart, reached Brandon Hall in a marvellously short time after his arrival at home.

Jos. Larkin, his clerk, and the despatch-box, had a short wait in the Dutch room, before his admission to the library, where an animated debate was audible. The tremendous contest impending over the county was, of course, the theme. In the Dutch room, where they waited, there was a large table, with a pyramid of blank envelopes in the middle, and ever so many cubic feet of canvassing circulars, six chairs, and pens and ink. The clerks were in the housekeeper's room at that moment, partaking of refreshment. There was a gig in the court-yard, with a groom at the horse's head, and Larkin, as he drew up, saw a chaise driving round to the stable yard. People of all sorts were coming and going, and Brandon Hall was already growing like an inn.

'How d'ye do, dear Larkin?' said Captain Brandon Stanley Lake, the hero of all this debate and commotion, smiling his customary sly greeting, and extending his slim hand across the arm of his chair—'I'm so sorry you were away—this thing has come, after all, so suddenly—we are getting on famously though—but I'm awfully fagged.' And, indeed, he looked pale and tired, though smiling. 'I've a lot of fellows with me; they've just run in to luncheon; won't you take something?'

But Jos. Larkin, smiling after his sort, excused himself. He was glad they had a moment to themselves. He had brought the money, which he knew would be acceptable at such a moment, and he thought it would be desirable to sign and seal forthwith, to which the captain, a little anxiously, agreed. So he got in one of the clerks who were directing the canvassing circulars, and gave him the draft, approved by his counsel, to read aloud, while he followed with his eye upon the engrossed deed.

The attorney told down the money in bank bills. He fancied that exception might be taken to his cheque for so large a sum, and was eager to avoid delay, and came from London so provided.

The captain was not sorry, for in truth he was in rather imminent jeopardy just then. He had spoken truth, strangely enough, when he mentioned his gambling debts as an incentive to his marriage with the heiress of Brandon, in that Sunday walk with Rachel in the park; and hardly ten minutes had passed when Melton Hervey, trustiest of aide-de-camps, was on his way to Dollington to make a large lodgment to the captain's credit in the county bank, and to procure a letter of credit for a stupendous sum in favour of Messrs. Hiram and Jacobs, transmitted under cover to Captain Lake's town solicitor. The captain had signed, sealed, and delivered, murmuring that formula about hand and seal, and act and deed, and Dorcas glided in like a ghost, and merely whispering an enquiry to Lake, did likewise, the clerk deferentially putting the query, 'this is your hand and seal, &c.?' and Jos. Larkin drawing a step or two backward.

Of course the lady saw that lank and sinister man of God quite distinctly, but she did not choose to do so, and Larkin, with a grand sort of prescience, foresaw a county feud between the Houses of Five Oaks and Brandon, and now the lady had vanished. The money, carefully counted, was rolled in Lake's pocket book, and the bright new deed which made Jos. Larkin, of the Lodge, Esq., master of Five Oaks, was safely locked into the box, under his long arm, and the attorney vanished, bowing very much, and concealing his elation under a solemn sort of nonchalance.

The note, which by this time the vicar had received, though short, was, on the whole, tremendous. It said:—


REV. AND DEAR SIR,—I have this moment arrived from London, where I deeply regret to state the negotiation on which we both relied to carry you comfortably over your present difficulties has fallen through, in consequence of what I cannot but regard as the inexcusable caprice of the intending purchaser. He declines stating any reason for his withdrawal. I fear that the articles were so artfully framed by his solicitors, in one particular which it never entered into my mind to refer to anything like trick or design, that we shall find it impossible to compel him to carry out what, in the strongest terms, I have represented to Messrs. Burlington and Smith as a bargain irrevocably concluded in point of honour and morality. The refusal of their own client to make the proposed investment has alarmed those gentlemen, I regret to add, for the safety of their costs, which, as I before apprised you, are, though I cannot say excessive, certainly very heavy; and I fear we must be prepared for extreme measures upon their part. I have carefully reconsidered the very handsome proposal which Miss Lake was so good as to submit; but the result is that, partly on technical, and partly on other grounds, I continue of the clear opinion that the idea is absolutely impracticable, and must be peremptorily laid aside in attempting to arrive at an estimate of any resources which you may be conscious of commanding. If, under these deplorably untoward circumstances, you still think I can be of any use to you, may I beg that you will not hesitate to say how.

'I remain, my dear and reverend Sir, with profound regrets and sympathy, yours very sincerely,


He had already imported the H. which was to germinate, in a little while, into Howard.

When Jos. Larkin wanted to get a man's property a bargain—and he had made two or three excellent hits, though, comparatively, on a very small scale—he liked so to contrive matters as to bring his client to his knees, begging him to purchase on the terms he wished; and then Jos. Larkin came forward, in the interests of humanity, and unable to resist the importunities of 'a party whom he respected,' he did 'what, at the time, appeared a very risky thing, although it has turned out tolerably safe in the long run.'

The screw was now twisted pretty well home upon the poor vicar, who, if he had any sense at all, would, remembering Larkin's expressions only a week before, suggest his buying, and so, the correspondence would disclose, in a manner most honourable to the attorney, the history of the purchase.

But the clouds had begun to break, and the sky to clear, over the good vicar, just at the point where they had been darkest and most menacing.

Little Fairy, after all, was better. Good-natured Buddle had been there at nine, quite amazed at his being so well, still reserved and cautious, and afraid of raising hopes. But when he came back, at eleven, and had completed his examination, he told them, frankly, that there was a decided change; in fact, that the little man, with, of course, great care, might do very well, and ought to recover, if nothing went wrong.

Honest Buddle was delighted. He chuckled over the little man's bed. He could not suppress his grins. He was a miracle of a child! a prodigy! By George, it was the most extraordinary case he had ever met with! It was all that bottle, and that miraculous child; they seemed made for one another. From two o'clock, last night, the action of his skin has commenced, and never ceased since. When he was here last night, the little fellow's pulse was a hundred and forty-four, and now down to ninety-seven!

The doctor grew jocular; and who can resist a doctor's jokes, when they garnish such tidings as he was telling. Was ever so pleasant a doctor! Laughter through tears greeted these pleasantries; and oh, such transports of gratitude broke forth when he was gone!

It was well for Driver, the postmaster, and his daughters, that all the circulars made up that day in Brandon Hall were not despatched through the Gylingden post-office. It was amazing how so many voters could find room to one county. Next day, it was resolved, the captain's personal canvass was to commence. The invaluable Wealdon had run through the list of his to-morrow's visits, and given him an inkling of the idiosyncrasies, the feuds, and the likings of each elector in the catalogue. 'Busy times, Sir!' Tom Wealdon used to remark, with a chuckle, from time to time, in the thick of the fuss and conspiration which was the breath of his nostrils; and, doubtless, so they are, and were, and ever will be, until the time-honoured machinery of our election system has been overhauled, and adapted to the civilisation of these days.

Captain Brandon Lake was as much as possible at head quarters in these critical times; and, suddenly, Mr. Crump; the baker, and John Thomas, of the delft, ironmongery, sponge, and umbrella shop, at the corner of Church Street, in Gylingden, were announced by the fatigued servant. They bowed, and stood, grinning, near the door; and the urbane and cordial captain, with all a candidate's good fellowship, shook them both by the hands, and heard their story; and an exciting one it was.

Sir Harry Bracton had actually invaded the town of Gylingden. There was a rabble of the raff of Queen's Bracton along with him. He, with two or three young swells by him, had made a speech, from his barouche, outside the 'Silver Lion,' near the green; and he was now haranguing from the steps of the Court House. They had a couple of flags, and some music. It was 'a regular, planned thing;' for the Queen's Bracton people had been dropping in an hour before. The shop-keepers were shutting their windows. Sir Harry was 'chaffing the capting,' and hitting him very hard 'for a hupstart'—and, in fact, Crump was more particular in reporting the worthy baronet's language than was absolutely necessary. And it was thought that Sir Harry was going to canvass the town.

The captain was very much obliged, indeed, and begged they would go into the parlour, and take luncheon; and, forthwith, Wealdon took the command. The gamekeepers, the fifty hay-makers in the great meadow, they were to enter the town from the top of Church Street, where they were to gather all the boys and blackguards they could. The men from the gas-works, the masons, and blacksmiths, were to be marched in by Luke Samways. Tom Wealdon would, himself, in passing, give the men at the coal-works a hint. Sir Harry's invasion was the most audacious thing on record; and it was incumbent on Gylingden to make his defeat memorably disgraceful and disastrous.

His barouche was to be smashed, and burnt on the green; his white topcoat and hat were to clothe the effigy, which was to swing over the bonfire. The captured Bracton banners were to hang in the coffee-room of the 'Silver Lion,' to inspire the roughs. What was to become of the human portion of the hostile pageant, Tom, being an official person, did not choose to hint.

All these, and fifty minor measures, were ordered by the fertile Wealdon in a minute, and suitable messengers on the wing to see after them. The captain, accompanied by Mr. Jekyl, myself, and a couple of the grave scriveners from the next room, were to go by the back approach and Redman's Dell to the Assembly Rooms, which Crump and Thomas, already on their way in the fly, undertook to have open for their reception, and furnished with some serious politicians from the vicinity. From the windows, the captain, thus supported, was to make his maiden speech, one point in which Tom Wealdon insisted upon, and that was an injunction to the 'men of Gylingden' on no account to break the peace. 'Take care to say it, and we'll have it well reported in the "Chronicle," and our lads won't mind it, nor hear it neither, for that matter.'

So, there was mounting in hot haste in the courtyard of old Brandon, and a rather ponderous selection of walking-sticks by the politicians—of whom I was one—intended for the windows of the assembly room.

Lake rode; Tom Wealdon, myself, and two scriveners, squeezed into the dog-cart, which was driven by Jekyl, and away we went. It was a pleasant drive, under the noble old trees. But we were in no mood for the picturesque. A few minutes brought us into the Blackberry hollow, which debouches into Redman's Dell.

Here, the road being both steep and rugged, our speed abated. The precipitous banks shut out the sunlight, except at noon, and the road through this defile, overhung by towering trees and rocks, was even now in solemn shadow. The cart-road leading down to Redman's Dell, and passing the mills near Redman's Farm, diverges from the footpath with which we are so well acquainted, near that perpendicular block of stone which stands a little above the steps which the footpath here descends.


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